Businessman Vijay Mallya, wanted in a money laundering case and declared a proclaimed offender, was seen at a book launch event in London that was also attended by Indian High Commissioner Navtej Sarna, sparking a row back home.
However, government clarified on Saturday that the envoy left the event instantly after seeing the fugitive liquor baron among the audience.
The government said the function to release the book, "Mantras for Success: India's Greatest CEOs Tell You How to Win" by author Suhel Seth and journalist Sunny Sen, was not hosted by the Indian High Commission.
"The list of invitations for the event was determined by LSE. They have written to the High Commissioner that Mallya was not on their list," the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement in New Delhi.
The statement said the LSE had widely advertised the event through social media and its attendees were not required to register in advance.
Sarna was invited to participate in the discussion about the book.
"When the high commissioner (Sarna) spotted Mallya in the audience he left the stage and venue immediately after making his comments and without waiting for the interactive session," the statement said.
It said that there were two events on the day -- the book launch by UK Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson and later a reception at the High Commission for select guests. The book launch event was organised by the 100 Foot Journey Club -- a collaboration between the Indian High Commission and LSE.
"Mallya was certainly not an invitee to the reception at the High Commission...and was not present," the statement said.
Seth, one of the authors of the book, in a series of tweets insisted that that it was an "open event". "No specific invitations (were given). Anyone could attend," Seth said, denying that Mallya was among those invited.
But the presence of Mallya at the book launch sparked off political controversy.
The Congress slammed the government for allegedly soft-peddling the investigation against Mallya who fled India with more than Rs 9,000 crore of outstanding dues to 18 Indian banks.
A non-bailable arrest warrant has been issued against the business tycoon known for his flamboyant lifestyle.
"Government is not serious about getting him (Mallya) back. The Indian High Commissioner in England understands and therefore he did not see any problem in attending the same event," Congress spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters in Delhi.